Des Moines, Iowa - GOP presidential candidate John McCain is deeply worried that his resurgent national campaign may be stalled by a relatively strong showing in tonight's Iowa caucuses by the iconoclastic Ron Paul.
The Arizona senator's campaign told the HuffPost that their candidate is concerned that Paul will finish third behind front-runners Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
McCain, whose campaign floundered earlier in the year, has been showing renewed strength in the battle to win the key New Hampshire primary next week. His national numbers have also been rising and one respected poll now has him in first place..
The McCain campaign also gives former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, currently leading the Iowa Republican polls, little chance of surviving New Hampshire even if he scores a clear victory in tonight's caucuses. The fight for the GOP nomination, McCain strategists believe, should be a head-to-head showdown between McCain and Mitt Romney.
A strong showing by Paul tonight could severely damage McCain's overall strategy. McCain is said to be especially irked because the outsider campaign of the Texas Congressman is given little viability on a national scale. But Paul raised $20 million from his fervent supporters in the last quarter of 2007, enough money to act as a spoiler for more mainstream candidates like McCain.
"Ron Paul's like the Joker in a poker game," said one McCain staffer. Paul reportedly dropped three mailers overnight and kicked his phone banks into turbo-mode in an all-out push to make into the final tier of tonight's winners.
Both McCain and Paul are currently tied at about 10% in most polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers. McCain has not actively campaigned in Iowa and skipped last summer's Republican Straw Poll. His visit to the state today just hours before the caucuses was one of his rare campaign trips here.
As Paul greeted his volunteers this morning at his downtown headquarters, the HuffPost asked for the candidate's reaction to McCain's anger: "I'm so excited. I'm excited he's so upset about me."